Blog 4

To see Komodo Dragons you can take either a 1 or 2 day boat trip. Both take in the island of Rinca with the second day going onto Komodo Island. With my new friends Maja & Mitja (Mack & Mable to me) we opt for the longer trip paying a little extra to reserve the boat exclusively for ourselves. On boarding the boat three trainee Somali priates push us off and we wait to greet our captain but no this is our crew. All aged 15.Naturally there are no life vests. Who needs them when you have snorkeling equipment?
We had wanted to start our tour early morning feeling wild animals are most active around sunrise or sunset but this was not possible.A guide is compulsory and ours worked hard first finding an immature Dragon asleep on a rock and then a female doing the same in amongst some leaves. The hike ended at the Rangers Kitchen and there underneath slept a further six. Although there were no fences it felt like an expensive zoo experience.
The day was saved when we anchored off Pink Beach for snorkeling. I am no world expert but this was the best coral I have seen. The variety and colours just AWESOME as were the numerous fish. The day finished surrounded by dolphins as we cruised into a brilliant sunset for our nights mooring.
By sleeping on the boats deck we had eaten breakfast and made Komodo Island by 7-30. A much better chance to see activity. Almost immediately we were rewarded when we reached a watering hole and Dragons. Two youngsters were active whilst two large males lay prone . Somehow it felt much more real even if there was a load of posing for touristic photos. I wasn’t the only one. The hike did not reveal any other Dragons until again we ended outside the Rangers kitchen and again many slept. Maybe they feed them. You think so? The day however was not yet done. As we returned to our boat there on the beach looking out to sea was a Dragon. On seeing us he decided to head for cover. At last a Dragon in motion and what an incredible sight.
I could not have been happier but I could be equally as happy as was proven next. We cruised to Manta Point to spot ? You have guessed it, Rays. I thought it would be like searching for a needle in a hay stack but our captain very quickly spotted one. “Off you go” says he or he would have had he spoken English. In our amazement we grabbed our snorkels and jumped in. I lost count but estimated swimming with upward of 20 of these enormous creatures. Maybe three meters across?. It could have proven dangerous as I believe you can drown if you persist in snorkeling with a massive grin on your face but sometimes you just carn’t help yourself.
The tour presses on and at 5-30 the next morning I am standing outside my hotel awaiting the bus for Bajawa when a car pulls up. After some negotiations ” Ricky” agrees to take me for the same price I would have paid on the bus. A front seat and no chicken on the head . Lucky me. This elevated posistion allowed me a closer observation of a theory I have that Indonesian drivers are somehow related to the horse. Ricky proved typical. Initially he needed plenty of encouragement with legs and whip as he stop started seeking other passengers. Eventually we left town behind and the ride settled down into a smooth phrase . Typically with 50k to our destination he sniffs his stable and with ears flat back and clamping down on the bit he galloped for home. On a narrow twisting road even Louis Hamilton driving his formula one car would struggle to overtake. Little wonder I am grey.
The reason for coming to Bajawa is to visit the traditional villages of the Ngada people of whom 60,000 live in this region. They used to practice animalistic rites but most have now been converted to Catholism. After all why bother with slaughtering the odd chicken when every Sunday you can eat the body and drink the blood of Christ ? I foist myself on a Dutch Father and Daughter couple to share the tours cost. The two villages we visited had been concreted over to stop tourist getting muddy flip flops but were still interesting. Each hut belonged to a caste and old women sat outside galvanised by the sight of tourists to start weaving. Everyone of them was terrible emancipated and toothless no doubt down to an addiction to Betel Nut. The contrast could not have been greater than with one hut which produced three delightful healthy youngsters but what future awaited them.
Sticking with Robert and his daughter we moved on to Moni and the Volcano Kelimutu. No need to groan I have learned my lesson. This volcano is conquered by taking a Bemo(shared mimi bus) until only a 40minute walk up concrete steps remains to the summit. The hardest part is rising at 4am to ensure catching the sunrise over the volcano’s three coloured lakes. It would have been great had it not being ruined by a light rain fall. Bloody nature. I always like to see people enjoying their own country and we were joined at the summit by a party of female bank operatives on a weekend jaunt from West Timor. Like all Asians taking photos and selfies is more important than natures glory.
After three days staying in a stilted bamboo beach hut I fly from Flores to West Timor. When I land night is drawing in and it is raining. Pep talk to self ” Hang the expense spend the £3-50 on a cab for the 15K ride into town.”and I listened.The foremost reason to be in Kupang is to obtain a Visa for Timor Leste which proved easier than anticipated. Meanwhile the shops are preparing for Xmas with sales assisstants donning antlers and Father Xmas hats . The PA systems belt out carols in a mixture of Indonesian and English but I suspect the plea of “Let it snow Let it snow ” will be forlorn. A traditional feature would appear to be fireworks and my heart’s condition has been throughly tested by fire crackers exploded in my vicinity.
I had made plans to do a three day tour visiting and staying in tribal villages but Hank who was to share the expense with me had Visa problems and cancelled. I still went to the Market ,two hours up a broken road, which was full of interesting characters if somewhat camera shy. Now I am two days away from the end of my Indonesian experience. My thoughts are it has been a great trip. The people have been amazingly friendly and helpful, air conditioning has helped cope with the heat and the rainy season which has been chasing me through out has only just caught up with me. I don’t expect Timor Leste to be so very different but an alternative to rice cannot come quick enough for me.
Cheers Steve.

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Leg 4

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Leg 3

Kuta was possible not the best choice in Bali . I am sure there are many resorts were a tattoo or body piercing is not mandatory just Kuta is not one of them.
A mini bus picks me up at my hotel and delivers me to Padang for the Fast Boat to Trawanger, largest of the three Gili Isles. . At the harbour chaos appears to reign with luggage flung into piles but it is only Indonesian methodology. Even so I am beginning to seethe before I realise that I have to exchange my ticket for a boarding pass. On boarding my equilibrium is restored when a beautiful Italian girl decides to sit next to me. In tow unfortunately is her boy friend. She lives between London and Shanghi dealing in Chinese Art . For me the 2 hour crossing flew by but she may tell a different story.
After finding some accommodation I book a three island snorkelling trip. First island coral reef, second swimming with turtles, lunch at Gili Air and finally feeding fish by hand. All was going well until heading for lunch . God must have thought he spotted Noah on our boat because he hit us with a storm of biblical proportions. You have to be concerned when the back of your head is dipping into the sea one moment followed by the fear of being launched into the lap opposite.
Obviously we survived and it was after lunch I was talking to a French girl who said “It is good Indonesia has tourism because it has no agriculture” . Huh thought I. They export oil, gas, coal and for palm oil, rubber, cocoa and coffee they are in the worlds top three producers. I could go on but you can’t expect a relative of M Holland to understand economics
After four nights I move on to the next big island, Lombok and the town of Senggigi. The cab drops me outside a Tourist Info centre and I pop in for a town map. Twenty minutes later I emerge with no map but a three day trek up and down a volcano. Well it happens. I soon discovered I would have been better off joining the Foreign Legion. My companions are a Swiss couple Jan and Susie and we have a guide and porter. I won’t bore you with all my suffering but it was one of the hardest things I have done and still didn’t actually reach the summit. In my defence there were many other groups on the volcano and I was old enough to have sired each and every one .Certainly a young persons event. My big toes are black and swollen from being used as brakes and my thighs have yet to stop protesting. On the plus side the views were spectacular whilst the swim in the hot springs was a welcome relief almost as good as the cold beer at the finish.
What else? Well I had a full body massage one day and hired a scooter to tour the island another. I then took two ferries and three chicken buses to cross Sumbawa to Flores. To give an idea one bus took seven hours to cover 160miles and some suspension would have helped. The only incident of note was when I took a collective taxi from the bus station into Sumbawa Bersa with my two new best friends from Slovenia. The cab driver got very excited and insisted we get out and look over a fence. On the other side was a 3/4 meter crocodile. A bit over the top . I think a guard dog would have sufficed.
Tomorrow still with my new friends I am off on a two day trip hoping to see Komodo Dragons.
Cheers for now,
Steve.

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Leg 2/2

There is a Sky TV program called “An Idiot Abroad”. I have never watched it but could I be appearing in it ?. On arrival in Bukittingi I am aware it is the Muslim New Year and find many of the hotels fully booked. Even so why would you take a room opposite the largest mosque in town? Cockerels are more tuneful than the Muezzin ,imagine Joe Cocker with stomach cramps, who woke me every morning in time for five O’clock prayers.

Susan, Su Jin for the linquists amongst you, and I share a ride to the airport even though her flight is 2 hrs later than mine. I am feeling slightly smug when I find I have paid less for my ticket. Well that dosn’t last long. On arrival at the airport I discover I have purchased a ticket not from Padang to Jakarta but the reverse. Company policy means no exchange is possible and only 20% is refundable. In a huff I rebook with Susans company. Whilst my original booking takes off on time as does its next flight our flight is cancelled and we wait 6hours before departing. During the wait we discover that independently we have booked the same hotel in Jakarta. So with Susan tracking our progress on her smart phone we used the Damir bus to reach downtown followed by the Transjakarta Busway to our hotel. Both systems use exclusive bus lanes avoiding traffic snarl ups and for a total distance of 20K the cost , less than £2.

Our first area of exploration is the Northern part of town know as Kota and said to retain some fine examples of Dutch Colonial buildings. Nope. There does remain a net work of canals the Dutch built but no longer used. Well they are used and I don’t want to get sniffy about this but not for their original purpose. In a Chinese Market we discovered a man stripping the skin from frogs but this was overshadowed when we stopped for a drink in the highly recommended and overpriced Cafe Batavia. On going to the loo I discovered a trough in front of a full length mirror. So you stand there with One Eye Pete staring back and then water begins to cascade down the mirror. Very weird .

The following day we visited the Monas. A 132 meter tower said to be the final great errection of an out going president. There is a viewing platform at the top but it was closed by the time we arrived and when we tried again the next day there was a three hour wait. After that we were reduced to visiting a Mall. The traffic,noise, chaos and heat of Jakarta made strolling through an air conditioned shopping centre an appealing proposition. The next day Susan left but not before she had taught me how to use Google Maps on my Moderately Intelligent Phone. Therefore after having eaten rice for several days I set off to find Hard Rock Cafe for a juicy burger and chips. Google Maps worked like a dream but when I arrived at the designated address it did’nt exsist. Bummer.

Next up Yogyakarta by train. Apart from arriving 1 1/2hours late no problems. Here I visited the Sultans Place which included traditional dancing and Borobudur a Budist temple from the 8th century. That Raffles fellow of Singapore fame was in charge during a brief spell when the Brits ousted the Dutch. He heard about a temple reclaimed by the jungle and sent minions to investigate saying, “In years to come this could be a nice little earner”. And with Unesco backing so it has proved. I paid extra to get up before I went to bed to include the sun rise. Waste of sleep and although the temple was impressive on the return journey passing all the shops selling icons and statues you do wonder what is real.

I havn’t mentioned it before but Yogya, in common with other places in Indonesia ,has to my knowledge an innovative educational program. Once kids have reached a minimum standard in English they are sent out in packs of 4/6 to harass tourists. “Please Sir may we practice our English with you”. I am the target of many such discussion groups which more often than not end up with a selfie.The refreshing things is many of these groups are muslim girls. There must be pressure groups here ,hence the Bali bombings, but on the face of it the demands of the Middle Eastern Fundlementalists are irrevelent. Yes they wear head scarfs but more as a fashion accessory to match the latest blouse. Girls go to school, walk hand in hand with boyfriends and even work in American Fast food chains.And this is the largest Muslim nation in the world.

On these trips I am unusually proud of the small carbon footprint I create but not so this time. Faced with a Train/coach/ferry journey I jump on the back of a scooter to the airport and fly to Bali. I had planned to explore the island by scooter but opted to do nothing more than turn a nice shade of pink by the pool. When hunger forces me to venture out I am offered girls ,viagra,massage or alternatively I could visit one of the many Tattoo and body piecing palours.Most Aussies seem to have. If only I could decide. By tomorrow it will be to late as I move on to the Gili Isles and snorkeling.

 

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Leg 2

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Sumatra

Blog 1 052 Blog 1 039 Blog 1 043 Blog 1 004 Blog 1 005 Blog 1 071 Blog 1 057 Blog 1 060 Blog 1 062 Blog 1 063 Blog 1 064 Blog 1 065 Blog 1 067 Blog 1 068 Blog 1 069 Blog 1 070 Blog 1 072 Blog 1 081 Blog 1 084 Blog 1 086 Blog 1 090 Blog 1 042Indonesia-East Timor-Australia
I suppose some maybe wondering why the absence of a bike on this trip . Well with my usual dilligent planning I discovered too late that I could only obtain an Indonesian Visa for 60 days. This to cover over 2000 miles and numerous island hops(I still have yet to count them all). It was possible but not at the pace I like to travel. The deciding factor was Australia. I have always had it in my mind that when I finally made it Down Under it would be a camper van trip . Vast distances and a scerary that changes very slowly. So no bike.
The night before I fly I scan the seating on my flight and move myself to the last empty three seater. You can imagine my disappointment when a beautiful blond sidles in beside me. Is there no justice? In the middle of the night I awake to find her sleeping on my shoulder even though her boyfriend is the other side.Hussy.
Approximately 17 hours after leaving London I arrive in Medan’s brand new airport. There is an equally new train link,built by the Koreans, to the central station. As I step onto the train I am greeted by a large poster of Glen Johnson, the Liverpool footballer, whilst Adel warbles from the speaker system. Foreign travel is so enriching.
The local transport at the station is a motorcycle combo called a Becak. I have already established that the fare should be 20,000 rupiah or had least I thought I had and confirm this with my driver. Lots of sticking two fingers up to each other. Imagine his delight when I present him with 200,000(a little over £10) but he did’nt get a tip. Some days later I discovered the average fare is in fact 2000, about 20pence but by then I had made quite a few Becak drivers richer. Zeros and jet lag is the excuse and non of this would have happened had I had a bike.
By my standards the hotel is up market. So the following morning when I exit its air conditioned lobby I am unprepared for the wall of heat. Still I set off to walk the streets of Medan,literally, as the pavements are full of parked scooters and street vendors. Not a very inspiring city and I am not sure whether it was due to smog or heat haze but I failed to see any blue sky during my stay . The heat of the day would finally be released by daily down pours. Serious Rain on Steroids causing local flooding. Very few people use umberellas as taking shelter is the only sensible option but I have purchased one in the hope of practicing my Gene Kelly routine.
After three days I leave for Bukit Lawang but I still hav’nt learned my lesson. A tout manages to extract the Tourist Mini Bus rate from me whilst loading me onto the local Mini Bus. As we progressed we gathered more and more passengers until even the roof was packed . This did not bother me so much as having a driver with a death wish. He drove as though continually blasting away on the horn would somehow create a protective force field around the van. It obviously worked as I’m still here moaning.
In Bukit Lawang like a magnet I soon attract my iron filing guide . Here comes the pitch. It is fruit season and the Orangutans do not visit the feeding station. To view them I will have to take a trek. Even though I am not convinced he is an offical guide and with my recent track record I pay him some money up front and agree to meet at 7am tomorrow. In football parlance “It was never in doubt”. He turned up . Not only that but because we left early when we discovered the Orangutans ,I saw eight altogether, I had them to myself for some time before other tourist began to turn up. I think how it works is there are spotter trackers who phone the guides when they locate the Orangutans. Yes mobile phones may not work in Briddlington but they do in the steamy jungle of Sumatra.
People I met kept asking if I was going to Lake Toba next so I decided why not. Eight hours in a private car with three other tourist , a short ferry ride and I have a very nice room on an island overlooking the largest lake in Sumatra. It is high in the mountains much cooler and more comfortable than the steamy jungle of B. L. and is the home of the Batak people. They were cannibles until the Christian Missionaries converted them to a more balanced diet. Apart from a short walk I spent three days chilling.
This respite gave me the energy to survive the next leg of the journey. 15 hours overnight on a local bus. Sleep was elusive as we crossed hair pin passes on broken road in seats prone to collapse at any moment and several did. The destination was Bukittingi a town re known as being hard to pronounce. This weekend was the Islamic New Year and hotels where full and prices up.Susan ,my Korean neighbour from Lake Toba,and I eventually found rooms at Hello Guest House. We have since spent a pleasent time exploring. Yesterday I hired a scooter and drove us out to Harau Valley, a very picturesque place with several waterfalls and plenty of Muslins enjoying thenselves.
From here it should be another two 15 hour bus rides to the ferry with Java OR a 1hr 50 flight to Jakarta. Quess which way I am going. See you in Jakarta.

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